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Gujarat Battle Moves North, Hardik Patel Woos OBCs in Modi-Shah Bastion

Hardik Patel addresses a massive rally in Mehsana ahead of the second phase polling. (Image: @HardikPatel_/Twitter)

Hardik Patel addresses a massive rally in Mehsana ahead of the second phase polling. (Image: @HardikPatel_/Twitter)

PAAS and Hardik Patel are not the only ones who see North Gujarat as a must-win battle. BJP, too, sees its prestige attached to this region.

Mehsana/Ahmedabad: Ever since the Patidar agitation turned violent two years ago, Hardik Patel has been barred from entering Mehsana district, which is a stronghold of the Kadva Patel community. The 24-year-old Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader, taunting the state government and bureaucracy, hosted a massive rally near Mehsana district’s border with Patan.

“I have been prohibited from entering Mehsana district for the last two years. So I decided to hold a mega rally near the border of Mehsana. Saurashtra and Surat have done their job. Now it’s turn for North Gujarat and Central Gujarat to do their part,” he tweeted on Sunday. Patel and PAAS claim that over a lakh had turned up at the Mehsana border rally, one of his biggest till date.

It is this show of strength that makes the PAAS confident. PAAS convener for North Gujarat Narendra Patel, who runs the organization in six districts, told News 18, “Hardik Patel has already addressed packed rallies all over Saurashtra and South Gujarat. If you think those were massive, wait till you see how the people of North Gujarat turn up in droves. We will make sure that the BJP is punished.”

That North Gujarat is where PAAS expects to pull the biggest crowds is no surprise. Hardik Patel belongs to the Kadva Patel community. While the Kadva Patels are small in numbers as compared to the Leuva Patels, but are concentrated in North Gujarat. In the last leg of the Gujarat Assembly elections, PAAS has concentrated all its energies in the north, where they can do the most damage to the ruling BJP.

In the six districts of North Gujarat – Banaskantha, Patan, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Gandhinagar and Aravalli – Patels may end up being the decisive vote. Unlike Saurashtra, where Leuva Patels outnumber Kadvas, the Patidar outfit is banking on the Patel vote to remain united.

PAAS’s army of volunteers from all over the state has now moved to the north. In addition to Hardik Patel’s rallies, PAAS volunteers are also spreading across villages in all of these six key districts.

Narendra Patel said, “We have 50,000 volunteers in the six districts of North Gujarat. On Sunday, 5,000 volunteers from Saurashtra reached Mehsana. On Monday, another 5,000 will come down. We know that north Gujarat is the key, so we will go all out in the last two days.”

PAAS has also changed its message from being a Patidar-centric movement to reaching out to OBC communities as well.

Patel said, “Patels are not the only ones who come to Hardikbhai’s rallies. We have seen a lot of enthusiastic support from the Kshatriyas as well. In the villages, our people are being welcomed by people from all communities. This is an anti-BJP wave that you are seeing.”

Harshadbhai Brahmbhatt, political observer and ex-aide to former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, said, “North Gujarat is the key to this election. Whoever wins these six districts will win the election. We saw a heated battle in Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Central Gujarat is likely to see a similar fight. But in North Gujarat, voters are more decisive, but the BJP doesn’t look very worried at the time.”

Despite activist Alpesh Thakor joining Congress, the BJP feels confident of support from North Gujarat’s Thakors, a powerful OBC community. A BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, said, “We are aware that Hardik’s agitation will cause a dent in our Patidar support base. But we don’t think it will be absolute. A lot of the younger lot may support him, but the older voters will stick with the BJP. Besides, most people forget that the largest community in Gujarat is the OBCs and not the Patidars. OBCs are resolutely with the BJP.”

PAAS is not the only player which sees North Gujarat as a must-win battle. BJP, too, sees its prestige attached to this region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, Gujarat Deputy CM Nitin Patel and former CM Anandiben Patel all hail from these six districts. Three of them, with the exception of Shah, are from Mehsana district alone. And BJP’s candidate from Mehsana city is Deputy CM Nitin Patel.

A PAAS leader said, “Mehsana will see the toughest fight. That is why we are concentrating most of our efforts here. The two seats where BJP is strong are Mehsana city and Kheralu. They have a strong chance in Mehsana because Nitin Patel is contesting from there, although we are determined to see him defeated. Kheralu is a tough seat because Narendra Modi’s hometown Vadnagar falls within it. If we can breach that, it will be huge.”

Mehsana district has nearly 4 lakh Patidar voters and Thakors, who form the largest community among the OBCs in Mehsana, have 3.31 lakh voters. Combined with other OBCs, they could help the BJP sail through the election. This, perhaps, explains PAAS’s outreach to communities other than the Patels. BJP is confident of sailing through in the Prime Minister’s home district, as well as other areas of North Gujarat. But PAAS claims they will not let the ruling party off easily.

“In 1984, when the BJP contested its first ever Lok Sabha election, they won only two seats in the entire country. One of those seats was Mehsana. BJP started its account with Mehsana, we will shut their account with Mehsana,” said Narendra Patel.